Album Review: Iron Maiden - "En Vivo!"

You remember that classic Chuck Jones cartoon "Hare Way to the Stars," where Marvin the Martian sprouts a bunch of 'instant martians' from tiny pills by dousing them with water, then hastily sends them chasing off on a fool's errand after Bugs Bunny, who has absconded with the 'Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator'? That's kind of what Iron Maiden's new live release "En Vivo!" is like. (Albeit without the slapstick.)

The idea here is that if you took "En Vivo!" and added water or chain mail or the hair of a virgin or whatever the double-secret formula dictates, then you would have a live, true to form Iron Maiden performance in front of you. The off-the-cuff remarks and exhortations of Bruce Dickinson, ever the bombastic and encouraging frontman of this ambulatory heavy metal hall of fame exhibit, help lend a depth and honesty to the proceedings that truly convey the sense of being there.

The most intelligent decision here was to base the entire effort on the band's single show in Santiago, Chile at Estadio Nacional and the advantage of this is two-fold. First off, it allows the disc to capture the ebb and flow of a live performance from a single perspective, as opposed to most live albums which divide the show through multiple takes and audiences. Secondly, Iron Maiden performs in front of fifty thousand fans on this disc, a total that is roughly equal to the seating capacity of Citi Field, and the band would have had difficultly attracting that kind of audience in other parts of the world. It's no coincidence that "En Vivo!" and 2002’s "Rock in Rio" were both in South America. On the final product, the crowd is practically the seventh member of the band, serving the narration of the performance as capably as Bruce Dickinson himself. That would have been nigh impossible outside of South America.

Beyond the replication aspect, Jones' timeless short comedy and Iron Maiden's live double-disc share the common theme of space and space exploration. The first disc is dominated, perhaps predictably, by Iron Maiden's most recent studio release "The Final Frontier," the space-faring adventure opera that happens to also be a contextually consistent progressive metal album.

The tracks from that effort come fairly alive on this recording, more so than on the album itself. In truth, this likely has more to do with the high quality production, which singularly blows life into Nick McBrain’s drum tone, allowing him, and therefore the backbone of each song, to sound thicker and more virile.

“The Talisman” makes the best live showing of the new material, and that goes not just for “The Final Frontier,” but for every album since Bruce Dickinson’s return to the ranks. While “The Wicker Man” and particularly the well-executed and journeying “Dance of Death” both make fine showings, Dickinson’s heart pours into “The Talisman” in a way that he usually reserves for classics such as “The Trooper.”

That said, the jewel of the entire collection, as it is almost every live Iron Maiden collection after 1992, is "Fear of the Dark," complete with robust chanting of the fifty thousand present on a single night in Chile. To listen to this song on the album of the same name, it seems musically thin and lyrically ham-fisted, yet live it takes on a whole second affect. Anyone who has seen an Iron Maiden concert since the song's release knows that it is a constant companion of the band's set list, as inexorable a part of the Maiden experience as "Hallowed be Thy Name." The song is intact here, complete with the audience's tireless, willing chanting of the familiar refrain "oh, whoa-oh, oh-oh oh, oh..." The inclusion of this living, breathing live epic is as absolutely essential to the experience of "En Vivo!" as Winston Churchill's speech was to "Live After Death" in 1985. It serves to illustrate a larger point about the purpose of a live album; not to showcase songs as we know them, but as they have become.

For those truly looking to use "En Vivo!" to reproduce a Maiden concert in their own personal space, I highly recommend that you experience this two-disc in a dark room, eyes shut with powerful speakers that are obnoxiously loud. To hear this on the treadmill through ear buds fails to replicate the experience of Iron Maiden as it is burned to this album. You must be enveloped by it and allow the music to surround and consume you. This is where "En Vivo!" is at its best.

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